For the last few days the Pagan media sphere has been a buzz over David Wolpe’s editorial in the Atlantic titled “the Return of the Pagans”. Several pagan authors have written responses– here is Jason Mankey’s. If you can’t access the full article on the Atlantic or don’t want to add to their hits there is a mirrored version on MSN. I am not linking it here because then it will feature higher in search results.

In a nutshell, the editorial uses paganism as a term for everything the author considers wrong in modern society and to describe the materialism and narcissism of people like Trump and Elon Musk, as well as leftist groups deifying nature. Which is…. Not paganism.  The editorial itself shows a lack of understanding of history or any actual pagan beliefs, and the arguments are incoherent.

If anyone has a subscription or is a reader of the Atlantic, please write to the editor and say you are along with a response to the editorial. While the conversations happening on social media is good, I think if the editors hear from pagans in volumes it will get more attention than comments. Even if it is just a couple sentences or a paragraph. Go to the Atlantic webpage, click on contact us. Select letters to the editor in the dropdown. The Atlantic asks for name, email, and city.  I hope pagans who are out or who are in a position it is safe to send a letter to the editor will do so. Even if its just a couple of sentences, it will still make an impact.

I wrote a letter to the editors of the Atlantic which I am sharing below.  

Dear Editors of the Atlantic,

I am extremely disappointed in your recent editorial “The Return of the Pagans” by David Wolpe. While I understand it is an opinion piece, as editors of a magazine with your reputation you have a responsibility to not print an essay that bad mouths an entire set of religious traditions using a very inaccurate definition of the word “paganism”. A cursory google search would have shown the author’s misuse of the word. While I don’t expect the editors of the Atlantic to be experts on modern paganism, I do expect you to know that modern paganism exists and extend it courtesy given to other religions that are much larger.  

“Paganism” is an umbrella term used to cover a variety of religious traditions, and in truth includes more religions that is excludes. The author used the term to describe the unhealthy elevation of acquiring wealth and the worship of strong men—which is not paganism. Using “prosperity gospel” would have been much more accurate.  Wolpe never defines paganism in his piece, and it is clear he is using the word to mean everything he considers bad and monotheism to mean what he considers good. The good points he makes are completely lost by his misuse of paganism as a catch-all for bad ideology.

The arguments themselves range from illogical to using made up history. First of all Wolpe seems to believe that all pagans share the same beliefs, and those beliefs have not changed over the course of thousands of years.  Nothing could be further from the truth. We are quite a diverse group in terms of personal beliefs as well as practices, that have changed over time. Beside the different traditions like Celtic, Norse, or Hellenism, there are ranges of political beliefs from far left to Trump supporters.

The author seems to have never heard of Aristotle or any of the other classical scholars that laid the ground work for many academic disciplines today, like logic and philosophy. Also, gratuitous excess wealth flaunted by an elite is not an exclusive pagan phenomenon. It is one of the factors that caused the French Revolution, which at the time was a Catholic country. There are also several other Christian monarchies that showed the same excess that eventually lead to their downfall.

It is strange to see someone claiming paganism is a belief in the material world, when a fundamental part of our beliefs is the presence of various spirits and gods. Many pagans believe that we share this world with many persons who are not human. Most pagans do not consider humans to be the primary life on earth, and learning to live in harmony with nature instead of power over nature is a virtue many pagans hold dear.

We are facing a rise of the religious right in this country that demonizes everyone who does not believe in their version of Christianity. Why is the Atlantic feeding into those beliefs by publishing a piece that casts the ideology of Trump and Musk as pagan? Did no one consider the effect this would have on real pagans as we try to live our lives in a country that is growing increasingly hostile to anything that is not Christian? We already had the satanic panic in the ‘80’s which caused innocent people to go to jail and other irreparable harm. Why is the Atlantic, a fine publication, publishing a piece that is scapegoating pagans for the world’s ills?

I firmly believe your publication can do better. Paganism is defined not by our beliefs, but by what we do. There are many excellent pagan writers whose voices can be included in your opinion pieces. Several well written rebuttals have been written in the pagan media sphere. Perhaps your publication could consider publishing one of those pieces, to correct the errors of Wolpe’s illogical piece. I have been a casual reader of the Atlantic, and hope to see your publication improve the work that is included because of the response to this piece rather than continue to publish such terrible works.

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